He thought the pandemic ended his career, but now he’s paying forward new successes

Florida convention photographer Chuck Fazio had to pivot fast after the pandemic canceled all the events he planned to work in 2020. Since then, he’s successfully switched up his photography career to include creating virtual tours and conducting drone shoots that he sells to hotels and other destinations for marketing. And he has managed to make a living.

So now, he’s created a separate nonprofit called Picture the Recovery to help support destinations struggling without tourists. The new program had a soft launch in St. Petersburg last month and Fazio and his team will soon travel to Volusia County to work their volunteer photo magic there.

The Tampa Bay Times spoke to him about his pivot and volunteer work. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Let’s start with Picture the Recovery. Can you tell me about what your new organization is and what it’s aiming to do?

We pile into the RV and we show up. Depending upon when and where, me and some of my friends — who are some of the greatest photographers in America — do our part to bring tourism back. In a limited time, we take some very cool images we give to that destination at no cost to use in their marketing materials.

Scott Strazzante, he’s a Pulitzer winner and works for the San Francisco Chronicle and he’s renowned for his iPhone photography. I fly a drone, plus take underwater photos. We have a lot of fun taking these photos in different ways.

The joy for me of what we did in St. Pete, was I shot of couple places where people who had lived there for decades said that I showed them places that they had never seen before. We are showing people from out of state reasons to come visit, but we’re showing people within the jurisdiction really great places for them to get out of the house and go visit. Although you may not be able to, or want to, get on a plane and travel, you don’t need to do that to still enjoy some beautiful scenery and beautiful places to go. They exist right in your own area.

Chuck Fazio (left) and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman chat in front of drone photos Fazio took and donated to the area to use as marketing materials as part of his nonprofit Picture the Recovery.
Chuck Fazio (left) and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman chat in front of drone photos Fazio took and donated to the area to use as marketing materials as part of his nonprofit Picture the Recovery. [ Visit St. Pete/Clearwater ]

And there’s a component you’re working on that will help support those who are out of work in the the tourism industry because of the pandemic, correct? How will that work?

The percentage of people in the hospitality industry out of work is crushing. So we want to be able to help everybody. Because of our short runway in St. Pete, we were not set up to sell the images. But in the future, the work that we take is going to be sold. Our primary mission is to support tourism and travel. And our secondary is to be a pass-through organization to some very reputable groups (that aid struggling hospitality workers).

And you know first-hand what that is like to be in that position. Can you take me back to when the pandemic first began and your job as a conventions and events photographer shifted?

I remember the first weekend of cancellations. It was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe I’ve lost $20,000 in business in the last three days.’ My last paying job in the convention business was Feb. 29. I would wake up to another email canceling an event. So pretty much that first week of March, I saw my entire income up until June gone. Everything was canceled. And wow, it is devastating. I mean, you can’t process something like that. So, not only are you having to process the fact you have got this disease right outside your door, you’ve then got to process ‘I don’t have a job anymore, what I do does not exist anymore.’

Related: Coronavirus prompts 34 percent decline in visitors in 2020 compared to prior year

So how did you come out the other side?

Like most people, I spent quality time curled up in the fetal position on my couch. I hadn’t spent so much time in the fetal position since I was in my mother’s womb. It was hard. It was hard to get up. I spent probably two weeks just making my yard look better. It was actually little things like that that kept me going.

My biggest concern was, I need to move quickly to take advantage of the opportunities that this nightmare is going to present. There are people who are going to do well in this because they’re going to see what the new mousetrap needs to be.

I saw a Realtor post a virtual tour of an oceanfront condo. I clicked through this tour and I said, ‘I have seen the future.’ I called the manufacturer up and I said, look, I am broke, I have no income, I have been devastated. I need you to give me this camera at a significant discount. And they did. And I got into the virtual tour business.

How did your experiences finding a new path so quickly influence your decision to start the nonprofit?

Most of my friends are in the hospitality world, whether they’re meeting planners or they work for hotels or for destination marketing organizations. I thought, well, you know, everybody loves a great picture, I’ve got this beautiful RV. Why don’t we? Why don’t we travel to the destinations? Why don’t we just take pictures? And why don’t we try to help some people out. That’s where it is right now and we’re on the cusp of landing a couple of significant sponsorships.

So now that you’ve started a career with drones and taking photos for 3-D hotel tours, do you see yourself ever going back to convention photography post-pandemic?

Well, the good news is, now I don’t have to do that. I am happy that what I do now means that if I wanted to do a convention, I could, but I don’t have to do a convention. The thought of walking around a huge convention center with two cameras slung over my shoulder? I don’t know. But driving my RV to a cool destination, taking out my little remote control flying thing with the cameras, and take really cool pictures that everybody loves? I think I’m gonna pick that.